Category Archives: Mystery

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite: Penny’s Latest Gamache Novel

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On a recent visit to Central Library for a meeting, I stopped to check the Quick Pick (QP) table just to see what was available. Imagine my surprise to find six copies of A Better Man, Louise Penny’s latest in the Armand Gamache series. It was published in August, 2019!

Not surprisingly, A Better Man has already received accolades from a number of reviewers. The Times of London named it a book of the month while The Christian Science Monitor named it one of the best books of August.

Louise Penny’s fans expect her to provide a good story. A Better Man certainly has a strong storyline.  All of our favorite characters from Three Pines are included along with the police agents we’ve come to know.

Besides investigating a murder, Gamache and Beauvoir and the police crew must deal with several other issues: Gamache’s return to homicide after a suspension and a catastrophic potential flooding across the province.

After a nine-month suspension, Gamache returns to the Surete’ demoted to second in command of homicide under his son-in-law, now named Chief Inspector Beauvoir.  Of course, long-time Penny fans will remember that Beauvoir will soon be leaving Quebec for Paris and a safe job, no longer a police officer. How will Gamache act when he is no longer in charge? What about the other officers, the subordinates?

The other difficulty that will involve police and other first responders is the potential for flooding caused by the April thaws and continuous rain. Rivers are threatening to burst dams and flood the province.

Gamache has mentored Beauvoir through his career and his rise to Chief Inspector. In the process, the two have become related through Gamache’s daughter’s marriage to Beauvoir; even more than being related, the two have developed a mutual respect and love for one another as brothers in arms and human beings.

As the story moves forward, I enjoyed seeing Beauvoir engage in many of the behaviors he has observed in Gamache over the years. Gamache is a calm man, a man given to defusing situations with a quiet word and a calm demeanor even when he faces a man holding a gun on him. Beauvoir finds himself thinking like Gamache and quoting lines of poetry or literature—if only in his own head.

The main investigation involves a missing pregnant woman who happens to be Agent Lysette Cloutier’s goddaughter. Several years earlier, Gamache had brought Agent Cloutier from accounting into homicide so she could help with tracing money as part of criminal investigations. Superintendent Isabelle Lacoste is also back following her recovery from a shooting in a drug operation of nine months earlier.

Annie, Gamache’s daughter and Beauvoir’s wife, is about the same age as Vivienne, the missing woman. Annie, too, is pregnant, so Gamache and Beauvoir think about how they would feel if Annie were missing.

While trying to locate Vivienne, the team encounters resistance from Carl Tracey, Vivienne’s abusive drunken husband. Thus, Tracey becomes the prime suspect in Vivienne’s disappearance.

The threatening weather conditions also play a vital role in the investigation. Other issues that intrude on the investigation include tweets denigrating Gamache and saying he is unfit for service. I found those tweets to be disturbing because they clearly are being sent out by people who do not know Gamache and have no respect for him because they do not know the full story.

Another side story concerns Clara, the artist resident of Three Pines. Her latest exhibition has been savaged by art critics. She feels personally attacked and deflated because of the terrible reviews.

In the end, Gamache and Beauvoir determine what has happened to Vivienne and who is responsible. The results are surprising. A Better Man is certainly a satisfying read.

Louise Penny’s Web site, https://www.louisepenny.com/books.htm, gives readers insight into the characters and the setting of the Gamache novels. Readers can also subscribe to her newsletter which keeps them updated on Penny’s work.

I learned on the Web site that Penny is a great supporter of literacy programs. In addition to being actively involved in literacy organizations, Penny has written a grade 3 novella: The Hangman. The story is set in Three Pines and features Chief Inspector Gamache. The book is designed to engage “emerging adult readers.” Anyone who works with adult learners knows that finding appropriate reading material at a level that the readers can understand as they are learning, but also appeal to an adult audience, is difficult.

The Book Whisperer Endorses a YA Novel About WWII

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I purchased a copy of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse several months ago. I kept moving it from TBR pile to another. This week, I picked up Girl in the Blue Coat and read it cover-to-cover in two days. One of my book clubs will be discussing Girl in the Blue Coat at our September meeting.

 That same book club discussed The Zookeeper’s Wife in August. We alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction. Girl in the Blue Coat is fiction, but it fits with our WWII theme. Hesse sets her book in Amsterdam in 1943. Hanneke, the narrator, is freshly out of high school, but the war has certainly made her older and wiser than her years.

Hanneke works for Mr. Kruek at his funeral home. After working there for a time, Hanneke becomes more than a clerk for Mr. Kruek; he enlists her help in the black-market of locating and delivering hard-to-find goods. In order to complete the orders, Hanneke must be resourceful and quick on her feet in thinking of responses when the Nazi soldiers stop her as she makes her way around the city on her bicycle.

In many stories about war, any number of people keep secrets. For Jewish people, for example, they may be hiding their family’s heritage, fearing at any time to be caught. Others are secretive about their activities such as Hanneke’s work in the black-market or even more dangerous actions such as hiding those the Nazis are rounding up and sending to relocation camps.

Hanneke becomes involved in locating a missing Jewish girl when Mrs. Janssen, one of her black-market customers, requests Hanneke’s help. Mrs. Janssen has been hiding Mirjam Roodveldt in a specially built nook behind her kitchen pantry and only accessible through the pantry itself. The hidden door to the nook is completely undetectable. Mirjam’s father had been Mrs. Janssens’ business partner in a furniture store. Mr. Janssen had been hiding the entire family in a backroom of the store that was also cleverly concealed.

However, someone had discovered the family and had killed all of them, including Lea, Mirjam’s twelve-year-old sister. In the chaos of the attack, Mirjam managed to escape and she ran to Mrs. Janssen’s home where Mrs. Janssen immediately put her into the saferoom.

Now, though, Mirjam is missing and Mrs. Janssen is extremely worried about the fifteen-year-old. Hanneke is reluctant to take on the task of locating Mirjam. Until now, she has concentrated on finding the hart-to-locate items like cigarettes, coffee, meat, and chocolate for the clients Mr. Kruek helps.

Despite the obvious dangers, Hanneke agrees to try to locate Mirjam. Doing so puts Hanneke is danger herself and can possibly endanger others as well. Perhaps her tightly guarded secret of feeling she has caused Bas, the love of her life, to enlist in the Navy despite being too young and then of being killed in a battle, leads Hanneke to try to find and save Mirjam.

Locating Mirjam will be difficult and unlike any other task Hanneke has undertaken. Hanneke must find others who can help her. Of course, the more people involved, the greater the danger too.

Hanneke draws attention to herself when she goes to the Jewish high school in an effort to find a picture of Mirjam. Even though she flees the school without giving her name, Judith, a young woman who works at the school, describes Hanneke to Ollie, Bas’s older brother, and Ollie realizes that Hanneke must be the person whom Judith encountered.

Ollie seeks Hanneke out to discover why she has been to the school. Ollie persuades Hanneke to tell him the whole story and he reluctantly agrees to help her. Ollie’s agreement then puts him, his friends, and Hanneke in more danger, but they are all part of a movement larger than themselves at this point. Ollie and his friends have already been heavily involved in the resistance, so now Hanneke is a part of the movement too.

At the end of Girl in the Blue Coat, Hesse includes “A Note on Historical Accuracy.” In it, she reminds readers that “some one hundred thousand Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust—nearly three-quarters of the Jewish population, a much higher percentage than in nearby countries.”  Hesse goes on to say that “Ollie and Judith and their friends represent an amalgamation of several different types of resistance activities, but they are mostly based on the Amsterdam Student Group who specialized in rescuing children.” Further, Hesse explains that “an estimated six hundred Jewish children were sneaked out of the nursery” and given to non-Jewish families in order to save them.

Girl in the Blue Coat is full of danger, of risks, and of concern for one’s fellow human beings. The characters in the story may be fictional, but they worked to save lives in much the same way that real people did. Monica Hesse is a journalist, and she researched the story the same way she would have researched a nonfiction book or newspaper article.

Hesse has received a number of awards for her work. She is also a feature writer for the Washington Post. Her nonfiction American Fire looks like an interesting story that deals with a true crime love story. Who could resist that description? Monica Hesse maintains a Web site at this link: https://www.monicahesse.com/.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys The Sentence is Death

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Anthony Horowitz has an impressive body of work as a writer, TV script-writer, and TV show creator. He even stars in two of his recent books: The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death. In both of those books, Horwitz shadows former police detective and now PI Daniel Hawthorne as Hawthorne solves tricky murder cases, a’ la Sherlock Holmes. Hawthorne approached Horowitz to act as Watson, chronicling Hawthorne’s investigation and subsequent solving of the cases. Against his better judgment, Horowitz agreed to the arrangement and even signed a three-book deal, so readers must expect a third book in the Hawthorne series. Perhaps this one will have paragraph in the title since the first two have word and sentence as part of the titles.

Richard Pryce, a high-profile divorce lawyer is found murdered in his own posh home, bashed with an expensive bottle of wine and then cut with the broken bottle. The list of suspects grows as the investigation heats up. Anthony Horowitz tags along with PI Hawthorne whom the police have brought in to help with the case. Each time Horowitz believes he has made headway in figuring out the murderer, he finds himself back as square one.

Hawthorne does not share information willingly and allows Horowitz to think he has figured out a clue when he may be close but not completely on the right track. Add to this frustrating mix, DI Cara Grunshaw of the Metropolitan Police who is in charge of the investigation and eager to solve the murder before Hawthorne succeeds even though they are supposed to be working together toward the same end.

Horowitz describes DI Grunshaw’s hair as “real but it resembled one of those cheap wigs worn by department-store mannequins, jet black and as glossy as nylon. It didn’t seem to belong on her head.” He also says she is “mean and hostile.” And the name Grunshaw seems right out of Dickens, a name that suggests someone vile.

Can an incident from six years ago when Charles Richardson, a friend of Pryce’s, died in a cave exploration accident have something to do with Pryce’s death? Three friends, Richard Pryce, Gregory Taylor, and Charles Richardson, all friends from university days, would meet once a year to go on spelunking holidays. Six years ago, a sudden rainstorm caused the cave the three were in to flood and Charles drowned in the cave while Richard and Gregory managed to escape.

Pryce had just settled a divorce dispute between Adrian Lockwood, wealthy land developer and his wife Akira Anno, a well-known author. Anno had threatened Pryce in a restaurant when the two happened to meet unexpectedly. Anno felt she had been cheated in the divorce settlement. But would she kill Pryce after making a public threat in front of many people?

Gregory Taylor must be counted as a suspect too until he, too, is found dead. Is his death murder, suicide, or accident? Then Davina Richardson, Charles’ widow, has motive to kill both Pryce and Taylor, doesn’t she? After all, her husband goes into the cave with Pryce and Taylor, but he does not make it out alive, leaving her a widow with a young son. What about other suspects? The list grows.

Horowitz has great fun playing with language in The Sentence is Death. Akira Anno, for example, is an author who has written novels and recently published a book of haikus. During the investigation, Hawthorne and Horowitz ask Anno about Haiku 182:

“You breathe in my ear/ Your every word a trial / The sentence is death.”

Hawthorne and Horowitz take the poem too literally to mean that Anno wishes someone dead, possibly Pryce. She tells them that “you have not understood a single word I wrote.” She continues by saying, “The haiku was not about Richard Pryce. I wrote it before I knew of his existence. It’s about my marriage. It was written or Adrian Lockwood.” She goes on to explain “I have placed myself in a condemned cell [by marrying Adrian]. I use the word trial in two senses. It refers to my day-to-day suffering but also to the fact that I am legally his wife. And I am not sentencing him to death. In fact, it is exactly the other way around. I am the one who is dying, although the last line is of course a paraposdokian, with the double entendre in sentence.”

Horowitz is clearly having fun with the haiku and the language in that passage and others.

DI Cara Grunshaw has made it clear to Horowitz that he should report to her everything he learns when he is with Hawthorne. Horowtiz believes he has figured out who murdered Pryce and why. He lays out the story to Hawthorne who seems to agree with him and even tells Horowitz he can share his information with DI Grunshaw.

When Horowitz tells Grunshaw the whole story, she pretends she has known all along what Horowitz is saying. Then she promptly arrests a suspect, but is she correct?

When Horowitz sees Hawthorne after the newspapers report the arrest, the two of them meet with Davina Richardson one more time. Hawthorne tells Davina that Gregory Taylor had been to visit her shortly before his death. She responds, “You can’t know that.” Hawthorne replies with “when you have excluded the impossible whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.”

That last line sums up the investigation, for Hawthorne has, indeed, excluded the impossible and has deduced who murdered Richard Pryce and why. For you to learn who the murderer is, dear readers, you must read The Sentence is Death for yourself. And since Horowitz has signed a contract for three books about Hawthorne, we must look for the next one.

Discover more about Anthony Horowitz at his Web site: https://www.anthonyhorowitz.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Exciting J Detective Story

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I discovered Mac Barnett, https://www.macbarnett.com/, when I watched him deliver a TED Talk titled “Why a Good book is a Secret Door.” It is located at this link: https://www.ted.com/talks/mac_barnett_why_a_good_book_is_a_secret_door?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare.

After watching the TED Talk, I sought out several of Barnett’s books, specifically Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, a picture book, and now The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, a chapter book. Adam Rex illustrated both books.

Like many kids, I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when I was growing up; kids today still look for such mysteries. Steve Brixton, age 12, is no exception. He has read and reread all of the books in the Bailey Brothers Mysteries. The Bailey brothers, dark-haired Shawn and blond Kevin, solve mysteries. Even better, they have written The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook which Steve has memorized; he has also acquired a Bailey Brothers’ detective license for which he paid “twelve cereal box tops plus $1.95 for shipping and handling.”

In Chapter II, “An Exciting Case,” Steve uses The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook on “how to size up suspicious characters” to figure out his mom’s new boyfriend, Rick. The Bailey Brothers say that “there are really only three types of criminals, and once you’ve got their distinguishing features memorized, you’ll be an unstoppable crime-solving machine!” See below for the three types.

“Type 1: The Tough: greasy hair, scars on face, stubble, tattoos, loud necktie, cheap suit, poorly concealed knife or gun, and LIMP.”

“Type 2: The Ringleader: red hair (the Book Whisperer objects to this one), shifty eyes, uses gel or pomade, well-trimmed mustache, turtleneck, tall, slender build, mysterious pinkie ring, dressy trousers, and LIMP.”

“Type 3: The Hermit: long white hair, wrinkly, crazy gleam in eye, missing teeth, large beard, uses an anchor as a weapon, torn shorts, and LIMP.”

Readers will quickly notice that all three thug types limp, a telltale sign.

On Friday in social studies, Steve draws a terrible assignment: to write an 8-page report, due Monday, on early American needlework while his buddy Dana draws the topic that should have been Steve’s: detectives! And Ms. Gilfeather said, “Your essay should be at least eight pages long. No playing with fonts. No swapping topics. Cite your sources. Papers are due Monday.”

By the luck of the draw, literally, Steve is landed in the middle of a rollicking adventure in which he is mistaken for a treasonous and dangerous detective. The story spirals out of control from the moment Steve locates An Illustrated History of American Quilting by J.J. Beckley. Steve plans to use the book as a reference for his essay. However, as soon as he hands the book to Ms. Bundt, the librarian, so he can check it out, pandemonium breaks loose.

Steve and later his chum Dana find themselves hunted by a secret society of librarians, the police, dangerous thugs working for the mysterious Mr. E., and Steve’s mom and her boyfriend Rick, who is also a police officer.

Can anyone be trusted? Steve must rely on his wits and his memory of the advice found in The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook. Luckily, he also has the book for reference in his backpack. But is the book helping him?

Barnett is an inventive writer and the constant action will keep readers turning pages. The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity takes readers on an amazing adventure of suspense and intrigue.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a New-to-Her Cozy Author

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Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, endures a year of mourning for an unfaithful husband. When the mourning ends, she throws off her black clothing and heads for London, shedding not only the clothes of mourning, but also the crumbling mansion that now belongs to the second son, Graham and his wife Delia. With her young daughter Rose, Frances takes a long-term lease on a house in Belgravia, part of London.

As a mystery lover and a cozy mystery lover to boot, I enjoy discovering new authors as well as relying on my long-time favorites.  In a recent article, I read about Dianne Freeman whose new series stars an amateur sleuth, Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh.  The first book is A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder, published in 2018 and the second book is A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, published in 2019.

Frances is a bit taken aback when she discovers George Hazelton, brother to her best friend Fiona, is her next-door neighbor. She and George and Alicia Stoke-Whitney share a dark secret they wish to keep in the dark.

Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, endures a year of mourning for an unfaithful husband. When the mourning ends, she throws off her black clothing and heads for London, shedding not only the clothes of mourning, but also the crumbling mansion that now belongs to the second son, Graham and his wife Delia. Frances is enjoying her freedom in London when she discovers her mother in America is sending Frances’s younger sister Lily and their aunt Hetty to live with Frances so that Frances can sponsor Lily for the season. The story heats up when Inspector Delaney visits Frances and tells her that her husband’s death is being investigated as a possible murder. Frances is certain he died of a heart attack, but is that accurate? To make matters worse, Graham is suing Frances to keep the money Frances’s father bestowed upon her when she married Reggie, Graham’s older brother. The suit freezes Frances’s bank account, at least temporarily. Could the plot worsen? read A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder to discover the whole story.

Frances is herself an American. Her upwardly climbing and wealthy mother sought a title for her daughter so she herself would have bragging rights. She and Frances knew little about Reggie Wynn when the marriage was arranged. Frances soon found herself having to pretend she knew nothing of Reggie’s unfaithful ways. When her daughter Rose is born, Frances focuses on the child. Now, Lily is coming to London to marry another titled Englishman.

Frances vows to help Lily make a better choice than she herself made in marrying Reggie. Other complications will take part of her concentration, however.

Dianne Freeman has written compelling characters who command attention and the plot is complicated enough to remain interesting without being over the top.

Freeman’s blog, https://difreeman.com/, provides readers with a brief biography and an introduction to the books as well as a readers’ guide. For her blog, Freeman interviews other authors and she gives insight into some of her minor characters as well.

The Book Whisperer Discovers A Family With Many Secrets

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Another recommendation book recommended by a friend took me on a roller-coaster ride. This time, the friend is Sue who suggested that I read Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. Kwok’s name had cropped up many times in my reading about new books. I had not read her first book, Girl in Translation, but it, too, has been on my TBR list.

Searching for Sylvie Lee depicts the perfect daughter, Sylvie, who has excelled academically throughout her life. But though her life looks storybook perfect, the cracks are growing wider. From the outside looking in, Sylvie has a great job, a loving husband, and a fast-track to more success.

Ma, Pa, and Amy, Sylvie’s younger sister, all believe Sylvie has it all. Then Sylvie goes missing. Sylvie tells her family that her company is sending her to Amsterdam for business and that she will have the opportunity to see her maternal grandmother who is near death while she is there.

When Sylvie was born, Ma and Pa were working hard every day in NYC and barely making enough to survive. Helena, Ma’s cousin, asks Ma to send Sylvie to live with her and Willem and be a companion to their son Lukas, Sylvie’s age. Ma’s mother is going to live in the home and care for the children.

I kept asking myself why Ma’s mother should be the one to care for the children when she was Helena’s aunt and Helena’s parents also lived in the Netherlands. Near the end of the story, this question is answered quite satisfactorily.

Sylvie returns to her family when she is six. She feels out of place and unsure of herself. Her baby sister, Amy, becomes a lifeline for her. Sylvie pours out her affection on Amy and pushes herself to be the best student in all her classes. In college, she meets Jim and they fall in love. He does not tell her that he comes from a very wealthy and privileged background until he takes her to his mansion home to meet his parents.

Ma, Pa, and Amy believe Sylvie is still in the Netherlands to see her grandmother one last time. Then Lukas calls Amy looking for Sylvie. This call sets Amy on a path to discovery about Sylvie. Where can she be? Why won’t Jim answer her calls?

Amy has a key to Sylvie and Jim’s apartment, so she reluctantly goes there only to find unopened mail piled up and all of Jim’s clothes gone. Finally, Amy goes to the school where Jim is a counselor and waits for him to leave for the day, forcing him to talk with her. He tells her Sylvie has thrown him out, but he does not explain why. He acts as if he does not know what Sylvie is thinking and he does not know where she is.

In desperation, Amy flies to Amsterdam to look for Sylvie. In Amsterdam, Amy discovers more questions. Lukas and Estelle help Amy. Then in a chance meeting that turns out not to be a chance after all, Amy meets Filip who helps Amy discover what has happened to Sylvie. I was skeptical when Filip met Amy because it seemed too coincidental, but then he explains himself to Amy later. So that mysterious coincidence is cleared up.

Searching for Sylvie Lee opens up a number of questions. At the end, Ma and Pa also come to Amsterdam and the village where Helena and Willem live. Once they are all in place, much the way Hercule Poirot gathers all the suspects into one room, the secrets kept for years are revealed.

I particularly enjoyed the sprinkling of Dutch and Chinese sayings the characters use. Ma, especially, uses descriptive expressions. In her first chapter, she describes herself “as ignorant as a frog at the bottom of a well.”  She calls Sylvie “my lovely swallow-girl.” At the end, she explains that having to leave Sylvie with Helena and Willem made her eat “bitterness.”

Read Searching for Sylvie Lee for the pleasure of a good story which includes mystery, intrigue, and secrets. The way the story moves from Sylvie to Amy to Ma as the complete story unfolds provides a moving story. Without those three perspectives, the story would not be as rich and complex or as complete.

Kwok’s Web site is https://www.jeankwok.com/. There, readers can find information about her appearances. She also has extensive material for teachers about Girl in Translation. For short story readers, Kwok has provided three of her short stories on the site.

The Book Whisperer is a Book Club Junkie

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When I tell myself to stop looking at, reading about, and seeking out books to read, I always fail. I am a member of two book clubs that tell me what to read, so I have no responsibilities except to read the books by the appointed day and time and be prepared to discuss them. I am happy with that arrangement.

I also belong to two other book clubs where I have a great deal more responsibility. One of those, I started in 1985; over time, the group has evolved so that I choose the books for each meeting. Because we follow an academic calendar for that group, I choose three books for the fall with a theme in mind and three for the spring with a different theme. In the summer, I choose a book for the June discussion; in July, members bring a book to describe to the others in an attempt to interest them in reading the book. I do provide guidelines that limit the discussions so that everyone has an opportunity to speak.

I am the leader of a fairly new book club, formed in Nov 2017. Choosing books for that club is a bit less straightforward. I both take suggestions from members and make suggestions, but, admittedly, I tend to sway the decisions.

Should I mention that I belong to yet one more book club? It meets irregularly and only from September through April. I am not responsible for selecting the books for it, but I am a consultant.

Should I also mention that I do love to read and to discuss books? Or perhaps that is self-evident.

Some of my favorite sources for locating books include the following: Nancy Pearl, https://www.nancypearl.com/; Riffle, https://www.rifflebooks.com/; Bookriot, https://bookriot.com/; and NPR books, https://www.npr.org/books/. BookBrowse, https://www.bookbrowse.com/, is another useful source. After using the free portion of BookBrowse for some time, I decided to join and have access to more information now. I have also received several books from BookBrowse to read, review, and discuss.

Today, as I read my email, I started down a rabbit hole of books recommended from some of the sites listed above. I started with Nancy Pearl’s site. Her reviews intrigue me. I discovered two nonfiction books to keep in mind for one of the book clubs.

Code Girls by Liza Mundy tells the story of women who served as code breakers during WWII. More than ten thousand women came from small towns and elite colleges to help shorten the war and save lives. Who would not be interested in the story of these women?  Pearl also mentioned The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal. In her review, she said The Hare With Amber Eyes is a book she would like to give to everyone. To me, that sentence sealed my desire to read the book. De Waal provides a true story of art, history, and family. De Waal inherited his family’s collection of 264 “wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.” From Japan, they are netsuke, objects of art which evolved over time from utilitarian objects that were used to secure a cord which held personal possessions. Kimonos had no pockets, so men who needed a place to keep pipes, tobacco, money, and other personal items would put them into a pouch which then hung from a cord on the sash or obi. The netsuke started as an object of utility, but evolved into art forms. The family also owned a large collection of priceless art in other forms, but the Nazis removed all that art. Because the netsuke were hidden away, they survived to remain in the family.

Hooper

Nancy Pearl’s recommendation of Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper caught my attention because I had read Etta and Otto and Russell and James, also by Hooper. Our Homesick Songs is a story of a family “on the edge of extinction, and the different way each of them fights to keep hope, memory, and love alive.” I enjoyed Etta and Otto and Russell and James so I am intrigued by Hooper’s new novel. I have been unable to discuss Etta and Otto and Russell and James with anyone else, so I am hopeful that will not be the case with Our Homesick Songs.

Another book on Pearl’s fiction recommendations is The Great Believers by Rebedda Makkai. Makkai weaves in the story of the AIDS crisis along with art, loss, and friendship. The story takes place in Chicago and Paris. A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee puts readers in Calcutta in 1919. It is also the first in a planned trilogy starring Captain Sam Wyndham, formerly of Scotland Yard, and now living in Calcutta for a new post in the police there.

Kane

Then at NPR books, I discovered Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane. May, the main character, is a university gardener who is more at home with plants than with people. At forty, she decides to take a year and reconnect with four old friends. May has four rules which she follows rigidly:

  1. Make the visit for the purpose of friendship only—not because you have a business trip in the area, for example.
  2. Stay at your friend’s house.
  3. Be alive in the space of the friendship, meaning no social media during the visit. Take pictures for yourself, if you want, but no posting until later.
  4. Don’t make special plans (spa, resort, fancy local restaurant), because the purpose is to see an ordinary day in the life of your friend.

So, dear readers, as you can see, my desire to stop looking for books to read is an impossible goal. I must continue to look for that next great read to share with my book clubs, my friends who are not in book clubs, and my blog readers.

Currently, that book is Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok, but you will have to look for the complete review from the Book Whisperer soon.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Literary Bent to The Last Detective

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Peter Lovesey is a prolific author with more than fifty published books that include mysteries and short stories as well as nonfiction. In addition, he has edited anthologies of short stories. Lovesey has written eighteen books featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond.

The Last Detective, the first book in the Diamond series, almost becomes the last since DS Diamond resigns from the force—only to be reinstated, of course, but after a delving into and solving the murder that takes him off the force in the first place.

Set in Bath, The Last Detective opens with the finding of the nude body of a beautiful woman floating in Chew Valley Lake. Since the body has been in the water an indeterminate time, the medical examiner has a difficult time identifying the cause of death. Some speculation includes suicide, but the police can find no clothes along the shore anywhere. Finally, the ME decides that the woman has been murdered, likely by asphyxiation.

Chew Valley Lake where the body is found is pictured below:

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Although DS Diamond is only in his forties, he sees himself as the last detective using legwork, questions of anyone who might be involved, and avoiding computers. At times, he must give in to the pressure to use computers to research crimes, but he assigns those duties to John Wigfull, his new assistant detective.

Like many other brilliant detectives in fiction, DS Diamond faces an uphill battle with the administration. He is of size and has been accused in a previous investigation of pressuring a man into confessing for a crime he did not commit. By the time readers meet Diamond, he has been exonerated, but not to the extent he hoped: complete exoneration, leaving no mark on his record. Diamond also believes Wigfull has been assigned to him as a spy for the brass, so he is distrustful of Wigfull.

He explains to Assistant Chief Constable Tott that in the Missendale affair, Hedley Missendale had confessed because he had been threatened by organized crime bosses to take the fall. Missendale knew he would be safer in prison than disobeying orders. Diamond is accused of racial prejudice, however, in pursuing Missendale, a known criminal. Of course, the official report makes no mention of the threats Missendale endured. The verdict was overturned and Missendale freed.

After some time, the woman is identified as Geraldine, Gerry, Snoo, a former actress who played Candace Milner on The Milners, a soap opera. Her husband is Gregory Jackman, professor of English at the University of Bath.

Complications to the story arise along with subplots. Jackman identifies Gerry’s body for the police. DS Diamond immediately interrogates Jackman, thinking he must have committed the murder, especially since he has not reported his wife missing in the four weeks since he has last seen her.

Jackman is having a coffee and watching three young teenage boys playing near the river. He sees one of the boys dodge a stick thrown by his friend, lose his footing, and fall into the river. Jackman runs to the river’s edge, removing his shoes and suit coat. He manages to grab the boy and drag him ashore, giving him “the kiss of life” to revive him. In the hubbub after the rescue, Jackman slips away unnoticed and no one knows who has saved Mat Didrikson. The mystery man becomes another subplot that takes on significance as the story progresses.

Molly Abershaw, a determined newspaper reporter, takes pictures and statements from Dana and Mat Didrikson, publishing a story in her newspaper. She asks for people to identify the man who rescued Mat or for the man himself to come forward. Then Mat sees a documentary on TV about the Jane Austen exhibit at the University of Bath. Jackman is the curator, so he is showing the reporter around the exhibit when Mat recognizes him. In an effort to thank Jackman, Mrs. Didrikson gives him two letters written by Jane Austen to her Aunt Jane Leigh Perrot. Mrs. Didrikson by researching Jane Austen discovers the letters belong to a man who wanted them only for the stamps. He does not know the value of the letters and Mrs. Didrikson offers him thirty pounds for them which he accepts.

Along with Gerry’s death, the Jane Austen letters go missing. Thus, the complications surrounding the case mount up. Diamond clears Jackman of the murder, but then he questions Mrs. Didrikson who has tried to evade him.

In a particularly nasty exchange between DS Diamond and his boss who accuses Diamond of assaulting Mat Didrikson in trying to apprehend Mrs. Didrikson, Diamond resigns. Diamond takes several menial jobs, including one as a bartender. Shortly before Mrs. Didrikson’s trial is to begin, Jackman tracks Diamond down and enlists his help in trying to prove Mrs. Didrikson’s innocence, another uphill battle.

So, readers, the real killer is…. No spoilers here. Read The Last Detective to discover if Mrs. Didrikson is the killer or someone else is responsible for Gerry’s death. And where are the missing Jane Austen letters?

Peter Lovesey maintains an extensive Web site: https://peterlovesey.com/. There readers can discover a list of all his works and information about Peter Livesey himself.

Below is a picture of the Jane Austen Centre located on Gay Street in Bath. Austen lived on the street, but in another home. She actually lived in several locations in Bath.

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Lovesey sets the Diamond stories in Bath where he lived for a number of years. Lovesey has won a number of awards including the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000, the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, and the Ellery Queen Readers’ Award.

I enjoy reading books in a series because I can become better acquainted with the main character and learn about other characters in his/her life. The series allows the author to continue to develop characters, thus creating a sense of family.

 

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a Cornish Mystery

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Carola Dunn, https://caroladunn.weebly.com/home.html, lives in the US now, but she grew up in England. She has written over sixty books, primarily set in her native land. I discovered Manna from Hades: A Cornish Mystery when I visited Cornwall last year. The information on the back of the book made me wish to read the story, especially having visited Cornwall. Port Maybn, the setting for the story, is, according to Ms. Dunn, very like Port Isaac. The day we spent in Port Isaac was magical (as was most of the trip!); it is the setting for the mythical Port Wen, home of Doc Martin.

Eleanor Trewynn, a widow, has returned to live in Port Mabyn, Cornwall, after living all over the world with her husband. These days, she has retired and has funded a charity shop, LonStar, in the village. She leaves the running of the shop to Jocelyn Stearns, the vicar’s bossy, but very efficient, wife. Eleanor collects donations across the area using her little Morris Minor she has named the Incorrigible. Eleanor and Teazle live above the charity shop in an apartment created when Eleanor had the shop built.

Of course, Teazle, Eleanor’s West Highland Terrier, is her constant companion on the road, on walks, and at home. After a very successful day of collecting donations for LonStar, Eleanor and Teazle return home to unload the car. Eleanor discovers a leather attaché case that she has no memory of collecting, but there it is.

After unloading the car and putting all the donations into the stockroom, Eleanor opens the attaché case to discover it full of jewelry. She thinks it must be paste, or costume jewelry, but she cannot be sure, so she takes the jewelry out of the case and puts it away in the small safe she had secreted into the wall in her apartment. She plans to have the jewelry evaluated to see if it is valuable.

Now, readers must learn some particular quirks about Eleanor: she tends to forget where she has put her keys, forgets to lock up the LonStar shop, forgets to lock her car, and forgets to lock the door to her apartment which is upstairs from the LonStar charity shop. Since her car was unlocked while she was inside a home picking up donations, someone unknown to her put the attaché case full of jewels into her car. This forgetfulness will also be a hallmark in the story.

The next day after finding the jewelry, Eleanor discovers the body of a young man in the storeroom and the attaché case is missing. The young man has apparently hit his head on a rather odd coffee table donation; the coffee table looks like a dolphin.

Is the young man the victim of an accident or is he a murder victim? Eleanor must call the local police to investigate. As it happens, Eleanor’s niece Megan Pencarrow is a junior detective on the police force. DI Scumble will be the officer in charge of the investigation. DI Scumble is a rather impatient, misogynistic man who is not too happy to discover that Megan is Aunt Nell’s niece, but he needs Megan on the case, despite his mistreatment of her and his impatience with everyone.

Artist Nick Gresham has a small apartment, studio, and shop near LonStar. He often helps Eleanor unload her car when she returns from her donation gatherings. Eleanor would like to see Nick and her niece Megan form a relationship, but she keeps that wish to herself.

The jewelry turns out to be real and expensive. The young man appears to have been murdered, so the police must interrogate everyone in the area, especially those involved with the charity shop. The suspects continue to mount up as the investigation continues. Then Megan breaks the case open by discovering the dead man’s identity and also finds some people who had been living in squats with him in a nearby town.

Manna from Hades is a story to keep the reader guessing. It also introduces delightful characters whom the readers will enjoy getting to know. Other books in the series include A Colourful Death, Valley of the Shadow, and Buried in the Country.

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Story of Deception

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Above, Greer Hendricks is the author on the left and Sarah Pekkanen is on the right.

Sarah Pekkanen has collaborated on two books with her former editor, Greer Hendricks. Watch this video of the two talking about how they met and their collaboration process: https://youtu.be/5xnbs1XodQs.

Each author maintains her own Web site. Read more about Sarah Pekkanen at her site: http://www.sarahpekkanen.com. Discover Greer Hendricks at this link: http://greerhendricks.com/.

Hendricks and Pekkanen teamed up to write The Wife Between Us which I read and found intriguing. Now, they have another blockbuster, An Anonymous Girl. Often, I disregard the number one best seller novels because they receive a lot of hype and that hype is not always deserved. In the case of both The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl, the attention both books has received has been well-deserved.

Both books involve twists and unexpected information which leads to further winding story lines. These kinds of stories are often compared to cat and mouse games in which a cat captures a mouse, but toys with it, releasing it and catching it again. Occasionally in such stories, though, the mouse may be the one toying with the cat and eventually gets away.

Publishers Weekly calls An Anonymous Girl “slickly twisty [with] gasp-worthy twists.” Jessica Farris works as a make-up artist in New York, going to people’s homes or places of business to do their makeup for special events. She works for a makeup company called BeautyBuzz which manages the makeup artists’ appointments. BeautyBuzz also uses its signature cosmetics, all with the business logo and phone number on the products.

Jess is barely keeping her head above water in New York; she lives in a tiny efficiency apartment with Leo, her dog. Jess works as many jobs as she can not only to survive in NYC, but also so she can pay part of the medical bills for her sister, Becky who has special needs resulting from a head injury when she was seven. Jess’ parents are not aware that she is helping with the bills; she does it in a private arrangement with one of Becky’s therapists.

In doing makeup for two college girls, Jess learns about a psychiatrist’s study that Taylor, one of the girls is supposed to attend the next morning. Taylor, however, says she is not going. When Jess asks about the study, Taylor says it pays $500. Jess realizes that an extra $500 in the month would be more than helpful to her in paying her own bills and helping her parents. She takes down the information and shows up at the appointment the next morning since she knows Taylor is not going.

The decision to take Taylor’s appointment in the psychological study about ethics and morality starts Jess on a journey she does not anticipate. Jess becomes Subject 52. In a room alone with only a computer, Jess first reads a message thanking her for participating in Dr. Shields’s morality and ethics research project. She must also agree to a confidentiality agreement, telling no one about the research project.

After accepting the terms, Jess watches questions appear one at a time on the screen. The first question is simple: “Could you tell a lie without feeling guilty?” Still, it is imbued with meaning for Jess. When Jess responds with some superficial answers, Dr. Shields types back, “Dig deeper” and “go beyond the superficial.”

At that point, Jess allows herself to answer completely, baring her deepest secrets. Little does she know that by doing so, we is entangling herself in a web that is not only emotionally draining, but possibly physically dangerous to her.

When Jess reveals that “sometimes I hook up with guys I don’t know all that well. Or maybe it’s more like I don’t want to know them all that well.” This response is one that will lead Jess into a study with Dr. Shields alone, although Jess does not realize that at first.

Jess Googles Dr. Shields and discovers her name is Lydia Shields and she is a professor at NYU as well as maintaining a private practice in psychiatry. Jess goes home to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving and plans to spend the entire weekend with her family. Then she receives a text from Dr. Shields asking if Jess can schedule another session over the weekend. Because Jess sees dollar signs and an opportunity to save toward future medical bills for Becky, she accepts the offer to return to NYC to continue the study, cutting short her time with her family.

Jess does not understand that Dr. Shields plans to use her in an experiment solely for Dr. Shields’s benefit and not for the continuation of the study. Dr. Shields is convinced her husband, Thomas, himself a psychiatrist, is cheating on her. She wants to use Jess as bait to see if Thomas will cheat. Readers and Jess do not discover this information immediately. For both readers and Jess, the realization comes slowly, eked out though the events.

In reading this part of An Anonymous Girl, I thought of Clyde McPhatter’s “A Lover’s Question.” Here’s the first stanza:

“Does she love me, with all her heart
Should I worry, when we’re apart
It’s a lover’s question, I’d like to know.”

Another relevant stanza appears below:

“I’d like to know when she’s not with me
If she’s still true to me
I’d like to know when we’re kissing
Does she feel just what I feel
And how am I to know it’s really real.”

Listen to the complete song at this link: https://youtu.be/iToeC28nWvs.

Jess becomes more and more entangled in Dr. Shields’s so-called study. She finds it harder and harder to stop accepting Dr. Shields’s requests because of the money she is receiving. Jess also likes Dr. Shields, admires her even.

Hendricks and Pekkanen take readers through an emotional ride with Jess and Dr. Shields as more and more secrets are revealed, not only by Jess, but also by Dr. Shields.

Both Jess and Dr. Shields narrate the story with chapters alternating between the two. Dr. Shields tells her portion in third person and passive voice part of the time. That technique removes her from the action somewhat. Passive voice allows the perpetrator to feel as if someone else is committing the actions or voicing the dialogue.

Jess, on the other hand, tells her part of the story in first person with active voice verbs.

As readers delve fully into the story, they discover the truth about Dr. Shields, Thomas, and Jess. Does the hunted then become the hunter? Who holds the most cards in this dangerous game? And who will ultimately be the victor? The end of the story reveals all.